Keeping candidates engaged throughout the recruitment process is more important now than ever.
By Marta Chmielowicz
It’s called “ghosting”—suddenly ending all communication with no warning. While the practice is a common event in today’s dating scene, it is making its way into the business world. And it is something that both recruiters and job candidates are guilty of: Hiring managers have long allowed applicants to fall into the recruitment “black hole” and candidates are now starting to return the favor by skipping interviews, ignoring job offers, not showing up for start dates, and even quitting without a word. In fact, research from Randstad US finds that 66 percent of U.S. managers report being ghosted by candidates who initially accepted a job offer, but disappeared before the start date.
“Ghosting is frustrating for employers and recruiters, but it’s also expensive,” says Paul Burrin, vice president of Sage People. “The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that average cost-per-hire for companies is $4,129 and the average time to fill a position is 42 days. Ghosting also causes lost productivity, as hard-to-fill jobs stay open longer than anticipated.”
But overcoming this communication roadblock could be an opportunity for HR teams to improve their outreach capabilities, ultimately enhancing the employer brand and candidate experience.
The Status Quo
For years, employers have been ghosting job candidates in an effort to save time and money. “Nearly every recruiter is too busy with other tasks to be able to dedicate time to engage every unqualified candidate and explain why they were denied for a specific role,” says Vinita Venkatesh, vice president of product marketing at Mya Systems. “When recruiters dedicate the extensive amount of time needed to contact each applicant about status, they lose out on valuable time they could have spent nurturing relationships with top talent.”
But while ghosting candidates may be easier than responding to every individual job request, the practice can have significant consequences. Burrin believes that ultimately, the act of ghosting represents a breakdown of trust between the company and the applicant, leaving the candidate unsure of where they are in the process. Eventually, candidates disengage and lose interest in the opportunity, sharing their negative experience with their peers and on social networks—and opening the doors to ghosting of their own.
The Tables Have Turned
Today’s job market has shifted to favor employees, pushing talent acquisition professionals to rethink how they engage with job candidates. A booming economy and historically low unemployment rate mean that there are more job openings than people to fill them, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting 7.3 million open positions and an unemployed population of only 6.1 million. Faced with more employment options and greater freedom, candidates are increasingly dropping out of the hiring process, juggling multiple job offers and interview opportunities, and choosing positions based on their needs rather than loyalty to an organization.
Whereas employers often ghost candidates because of time or financial restrictions, the reasons that candidates ghost employers vary:
1. New communication norms impede personal connections. Ghosting may result from generational shifts in the way that people communicate. Today’s hiring managers must recruit from a less responsive, less invested, and more distracted talent pool that is used to relying on a variety of communication platforms. Outdated recruitment tactics with infrequent touchpoints just don’t cut it.
“It is likely that the anonymized, impersonal communication normalized by the internet has exacerbated candidate ghosting, especially among entry-level job seekers who grew up with social media, instant messaging, and texting,” says Steve Flook, president and CEO of iHire. “If someone has been ghosted by a friend or significant other, for example, they are more likely to carry those actions over into their professional space. Ghosting is a learned behavior but is also a sign of the times—a generational shift is in play.”
Kari Hilder, CHRO of ProSight Specialty insurance, says that job candidates today are simultaneously hyperconnected and disconnected. While devices have opened a new world of communication possibilities, the adoption of this technology in lieu of personal, one-on-one connections has interfered with people’s ability to cultivate meaningful relationships. HR teams need to take this into consideration, delivering a personalized touch while taking advantage of the efficiencies brought by new technology.
“A lack of engagement is driving the trend in candidates ghosting employers,” says Jennifer Ho, vice president of HR at Ascentis. “This could stem from a number of reasons; however, a reason that comes top of mind is that recruitment practices are becoming less personal, with candidates feeling less ownership to the process or company and therefore avoiding the difficult or direct conversations of their intent.”
2. Candidates are casting a wider net. According to Ally Van Deuren, Korn Ferry University Relations Center of Excellence lead for North America, employees—especially new graduates—are increasingly applying to a high volume of jobs. In particular, she says that 47 percent of early career job seekers in 2018 applied to between one and 20 jobs post-graduation, and 53 percent applied to between 21 to 60 jobs. In this competitive recruitment environment, companies that are not responsive and engaging enough fall by the wayside.
“We have found that timing is everything—job offer delays are the number one reason they get turned down,” she says. “Generally, there is no malintent when employers are ‘ghosted’ during the process. Rather, new grads are often in the beginning or middle stages for so many different interview processes that they will only pursue their top preferred companies that have expressed interest.”
3. Candidates are loyal to themselves—not the organization. The rise of the gig economy, increased competition for talent, and the growth of a multigenerational workforce are all contributing to a fundamental transition in the way that people engage with their employers.
“Many are becoming more open to working as free agents, and this may also be contributing to ghosting as they reflect during the interview process on whether they want to be tied to a job, a manager, or a brand for a period of time, with all the associated commitments that this may entail,” Burrin says.
Jeannie LaDriere, team lead of global university recruiting at Korn Ferry, agrees that contingent-minded job candidates are more focused on meeting their individual needs than ever before—and they will not hesitate to leave an organization that is not meeting their expectations.
“Unlike previous generations, newcomers to the workforce aren’t looking for a job or company where they can spend 40 years and retire—they want more advancement, responsibility, and experiences, and they want it now,” she explains.
What Can HR Do?
Faced with a workforce in transition, HR has no choice but to adapt. Old fashioned recruitment tactics are no longer a safe bet; hiring managers need to adopt the best practices and technologies to communicate effectively with their candidates and deliver a positive experience—all while remaining efficient and managing their time wisely.
“The process is now more of a dance: getting the steps right, being in tune with each other, and enjoying the whole experience,” Burrin says. “The more ‘wows’ that happen during this engagement the better, as the candidate experience is now a critical part of the process.”
Here are strategies to keep engagement high and ghosting at bay:
1. Seek out good-fit candidates. In a climate where job candidates are non-committal and prone to disengaging with no warning, recruiters can save time and effort by adopting a more targeted sourcing approach that considers the needs of the candidate in addition to the needs of the organization.
This approach is an essential component of ProSight Specialty Insurance’s talent acquisition philosophy. “Know the jobs that you have open, know the candidate pool, and don’t force anything,” says Hilder. “Make sure that what you’re selling candidates is something that they want to be sold. We try to ensure that not only is the candidate right for us, but that we are right for the candidate. If we can get that right from a foundational standpoint, the other pieces will fall into place.”
She recommends that recruiters take the time to ensure that the opportunity aligns with the career goals of the candidate, focusing on retention rather than just hiring. For example, a candidate with management experience in a large organization may not be a good fit for a more junior role at a smaller company. By having those conversations right away, hiring managers can significantly narrow down their candidate pool, freeing up time to cultivate meaningful relationships.
But understanding candidates’ motives is not enough to attract top talent; organizations also need to be transparent about their brand, culture, and hiring process. Peter Navin, CHRO of Grand Rounds, says that his company works hard to drive brand awareness through deliberate marketing campaigns that illustrate its culture and mission genuinely and honestly. “We try to make our company tangible for folks and be clear about who we are and who we are not. We spend a fair amount of time and effort really developing the story that we tell about our organization. You can say, ‘We won the Best Place to Work award,’ but people want to get to know who they will be working for, what environment they want to be working in, and what the workplace is like.”
To validate these brand storytelling strategies, Navin points candidates to Glassdoor and other platforms where they can hear directly from current employees about their experiences. Grand Rounds also has candidates meet with company leadership when they are brought in for interviews to build a personal connection to the company and give them confidence that their careers could grow beyond the specific opportunity.
2. Provide tailored and consistent communication. At its core, ghosting is a failure to communicate. HR can overcome the trend by creating more touchpoints with candidates and meeting them where they are. Venkatesh recommends leveraging tools such as social media, live chat, and text to engage with candidates. These platforms also allow for on-the-go communication and help both recruiters and candidates keep track of next steps.
Hiring managers should tailor their communication strategies depending on the preferences of the candidate. “It’s about knowing your audience and connecting with the candidate based on what the candidate really wants,” says Hilder. “If you’re talking to a more junior candidate, they might prefer communication in the form of a text message, whereas a more senior candidate might prefer a phone call.”
Where the applicant is in the process should also be a key communication consideration. “First and foremost, inform every applicant when they are disqualified from your hiring process—do away with the black hole!” says Flook. “And the further candidates are in the recruiting funnel, the more personalized your outreach should be. So you can get away with an automated ‘thank you’ email for those who don’t make it past your initial screening process, but for candidates who have taken the time to interview in person or even via phone, you’ll need to be a little more personable.”
While these communication requirements can be strenuous for recruiters, the right technology can help. Artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled recruiting bots can guide applicants through the initial phases of the hiring process via chat, text, or email. By handling rote tasks like interview scheduling and data entry, chatbots can free up hiring managers to focus on more valuable, higher-level conversations.
And good communication shouldn’t stop at the offer. Ascentis’ Ho emphasizes the importance of frequent touchpoints into the onboarding process to ensure the candidate shows up on their first day. “Employee engagement begins before an employee even joins an organization,” she says, recommending that HR establish a single point of contact who is responsible for maintaining continuous engagement with the candidate—even when the only update is no update.
This is especially important if there is a long transition time from hire to the start date, says Navin. He makes sure that his recruiters check in with candidates two to three times between the offer acceptance and the first day, starting the onboarding process early to complete administrative tasks prior to their arrival. In addition, Grand Rounds measures the experience of each new employee in their first month, constantly gathering feedback to improve the candidate and hiring manager experience.
3. Keep an eye on the clock. A simple yet effective way to keep candidates engaged is to shorten and streamline the hiring process.
“NACE tells us that the average time from interview to offer for early career hires is around 25 days, so employers are missing the mark if they are taking more than a month to close the deal with these highly marketable candidates,” says Van Deuren. “At the end of the day, timing is everything—so the more that the employer is ahead of the recruiting timeline and is able to make an offer to the candidate in under 30 days, the higher the chances are the candidate will not ‘ghost.’”
Flook also emphasizes that organizations should avoid more than three rounds of interviews per candidate, and that they should provide timely feedback once a decision is made.
“Even if you are alerting a candidate that they did not get the job, you can continue to build rapport with that individual and positively impact your employer brand. Who knows, they may be your next great hire,” he says.
Ultimately, the key to success is a short and simple hiring process that leverages technology to increase the ease of communication while delivering a human touch.